Free agency, contract disputes, and player retirement may not be an issue for a defending champion high school team trying to maintain its winning ways, but graduation certainly is. And the Newtown High School hockey team, because of last year’s high number of graduates — ten to be exact — is in rebuilding mode as the puck drops on the 2014-15 campaign. The Nighthawks, coming off their Division III state championship and runner-up in the South-West Conference/ Southern Connecticut Conference D-III finish a year ago, have an eye on the future with hopes of repeating success in the short term.
A win in the Class LL state championship certainly did a lot to ease the pain of narrowly missing out on a South-West Conference title last winter. But while the Nighthawks may be on top of things and be the hunted in the state, they are every bit as much hungry for success and the hunters in the conference. “We’re absolutely not hiding from anybody right now, so that means everybody’s going to come at us harder,” Coach Chris Bray anticipates. “Everybody here has a good understanding of what they need to do.”
Cohesion and athleticism are strengths of the Newtown High School boys’ basketball team, and Coach Tim Tallcouch is hopeful that those traits will help his team have some success as what stands to be a rigorous schedule unfolds this season. “Every night’s going to be a challenge for us,” Tallcouch said. The South-West Conference has plenty of tough teams, said the coach, reeling off the likes of Notre Dame-Fairfield, Joel Barlow of Redding, Weston, New Fairfield, New Milford, Stratford, and Bunnell of Stratford. “I think every night is a game. Somebody I forgot to mention is going to come back and beat me,” he said light-heartedly. Likewise, Tallcouch believes his team will upset somebody along the way. “I think we’ll surprise some people, but we’re going to have some growing pains,” said the coach, whose team lost five players from a year ago between graduates and players not returning.
It’s time to select the winner of the Newtown Bee’s Harmon Award For Sportsman of the Year — named in honor of former Newtown Bee Sports Editor Kim Harmon. The award will go to someone who has had a significant impact on Newtown sports within the last year. Selections may include volunteers and those who have dedicated countless hours to athletics in town.
Personnel dictates a team’s style of play and, this year, Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team returns to its familiar fast-paced, run-the-floor approach to the game. “I feel like this year we can get back to playing up-tempo, pressure basketball,” said Coach Jeremy O’Connell, whose lineups throughout the years have leaned on overall speed and athleticism, along with strong defenses to create turnovers and push the flow of the game before playing a bit more of a half-court brand of basketball last year.
Cheering along the local sidelines at football games takes plenty of skill and an ability to focus and perform in front of a crowd. But doing so on the big stage, among the best cheer squads from around the country and with a national title on the line, is something else for a group of 13-year-olds. Members of the Newtown Youth Cheerleading D13 team managed to overcome their nerves and rise to the top. They jumped, tumbled, and danced to a title at the American Youth Cheer National Championship, in Lakeland, Fla., on December 13. Newtown was tops among a dozen teams representing nine regions that competed at Lakeland Center Arena, about an hour outside of Orlando.
Years of working at supporting the game of golf has allowed Bill Flood to rise in the ranks. Earlier this month, after seven years of service to the Connection Section PGA, he was elected as the 34th president of the Connecticut Section PGA. Now, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get down to business or — to put it another way — get out the wedge and dig out of the rough. Flood hopes to encourage prospective golfers to get involved and find the patience and dedication to stick with the game and help build interest in driving, putting, and chipping on the courses. Flood said he and a team of PGA officials will spend time working on player development with a creative approach. “We need to attract more juniors and more ladies to the game of golf,” Flood said. “My mantra will really be about trying to get new players into the game and making it fun.” He said an example of how the game can be simplified and, thus, made more enjoyable for beginners, is to move tees forward to create a shorter course for golfers getting accustomed to swinging clubs. He’s optimistic it’ll catch on once young players get a taste of golf.
The days of leather football helmets gave way to hard-shelled head protectors three-quarters of a century ago — just one example of how football equipment has been improved for safety reasons, particularly with the head in mind, throughout the years. So, why not some schedule alterations as part of the efforts to limit injuries among hard-hitting athletes too? On Saturday, December 6, Newtown High School’s football team took on Xavier of Middletown (see related story) in the semifinals of the newly/temporarily formed Class LL-Small division of the state football playoffs. The Nighthawks and Xavier were among eight state qualifying teams in Class LL with a one in four chance of winning a state title. Wait, the numbers don’t add up? No, that math is accurate.
Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team began the season with a clash against old rival Lauralton Hall of Milford on December 10. The host Nighthawks led from start to finish, fended off a second-half Crusader rally, and won 41-35. Lauralton, a former South-West Conference foe of Newtown’s, is in its first season in the Southern Connecticut Conference. The Nighthawks got ten points from Haley Ryan, eight from Mali Klorczyk, and seven apiece from Sarah Lynch and Lauren Wilcox. The visitors erased a 23-16 second-half deficit to eventually tie the score at 28 apiece in the fourth quarter. Newtown’s Olyvia Shaw converted a 3-point play to cap the third quarter scoring, and it was 28-24 heading to the fourth.
Newtown High School’s passing attack was thwarted by the rain, and the rushing game was mostly stopped by visiting Xavier of Middletown’s big front six in the Class LL-Small Division football state playoff semifinals at Blue & Gold Stadium on December 6. The fourth-seeded Falcons capitalized on a turnover for their only touchdown, and had a pair of field goals to defeat the top-seeded Nighthawks 13-7, advancing to the championship game. The Nighthawks, down 10-0 at halftime, closed to within three points when quarterback Jacob Burden connected with Ethan Carpenter over the middle for a 46-yard scoring play with 4:42 left in the third quarter. That was a rare successful play through the air for either team.